Federal government criticised over Tony Abbott travel exemption

Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott. Source: AAP

Former prime minister Tony Abbott was given a travel exemption to accept a new job as the UK’s trade advisor in the lead up to Brexit. The move has prompted criticism, amid reports that others have been denied exemptions to travel for funerals of loved ones.

Tony Abbott was given a travel exemption on Australia’s international travel ban to visit the United Kingdom, as the former prime minister accepted a new role to advise the UK trade board as they leave the European Union.

Abbott's exemption hasn't gone down well, with criticism surfacing online, from politicians and the general public. The travel exemption will enable the former prime minister to attend a golf tournament in Wales, take a trip to Italy, and a return back to London to deliver a speech to the UK based think-tank the Policy Exchanged.

Many have drawn comparisons to families who have been denied travel amid the current international travel ban, for the sake of attending funerals.

Others have labelled Tony Abbott's exemption unfair.

A spokesperson from Australia’s Border Force told The Sydney Morning Herald the travel exemptions are “unique and considered individually”, and reliant on the information and evidence within the application. 

"Decisions by the ABF Commissioner to grant exemptions for travel must be balanced against the Government's intent for imposing the travel ban and the health risks posed to the Australian community by international travellers," the spokesman told SMH.

The ABF received over 87,600 applications seeking exemption from the travel ban between March 20 and July 31 but only 15 per cent of requests have been approved. 

“From 20 March to 31 July, over 13,260 foreign nationals have had their inbound travel exemption request approved to travel to Australia by the ABF Commissioner,” an ABF spokesperson told SBS Hindi

“During this same period, over 1,710 foreign nationals have had their inbound travel exemption request to travel to Australia denied by the ABF Commissioner.”

‘My friend was refused permission to travel to her father’s funeral’

Labor senator Penny Wong was one of the voices highlighting what she believes is a contradiction around Australia’s international travel ban.

She took to Twitter to criticise the exemption granted to a businessman with connections to prime minister Scott Morrison to pick up his yacht from Italy, and now Abbott’s trip to London. 

“Tony Abbott leaves for a breakfast meeting about a plum foreign government job. But other Australians can’t visit dying relatives,” Wong said on Twitter.

Wong wasn't alone in the criticism. Twitter user @Ria_Oxburgh was angered by the decision to allow Abbott to travel, saying, "My friend was refused permission to travel to her father's funeral in the UK. But international travel for Tony Abbott's job interview is essential. The hypocrisy is boundless.

Mixed reactions to Abbott's appointment

The UK's shadow trade secretary Emily Thornberry was scathing in her response to Abbott's appointment.

She was "disgusted" by UK prime minister Boris Johnson's decision in hiring Abbott as a Brexit trade advisor.

"On a personal level, I am disgusted that Boris Johnson thinks this offensive, leering, cantankerous, climate-change-denying, Trump-worshipping misogynist is the right person," Thornberry said on Wednesday.

Mike Rann, a former Australian high commissioner to the UK, was also unenthused by Johnson's hire.

"Britain asking Tony Abbott to run its trade negotiations would be about as credible as Australia asking Gavin Williamson to take charge of its education system," Rann said on Twitter.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was pleased with Abbott's appointment calling Johnson's decision a "good hire"

"I'll leave that for the attorney-general to sort out and I'm sure there's paperwork for Tony to fill out - I'm sure he'll get that done," the prime minister told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

"But well done Boris, good hire."